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The Aisenbergs: The McCanns 10 years Ago

Sabrina, the youngest daughter of Marlene and Steve Aisenberg, has not been seen or heard from since Nov. 24, 1997. It's been more than ten long years since the five-month-old baby seemingly vanished.

Part 1

"I have dreams often that she's coming home, and that we're playing, and the dreams are as vivid as they are real," says Steve.

"I believe she's just a beautiful young lady, 7 years old," says Marlene. "She's not a baby anymore."

They've tried to rebuild their lives, but Marlene says, "We are as happy as we can be until she comes home. … We will be an ecstatic family when we're all together like we should be."


For the Aisenbergs, the ordeal began in Valrico, Fla., just outside of Tampa. On the morning of Nov. 24, 1997, at 6:30 a.m., Marlene noticed that something had gone terribly wrong.

"It's the most horrific thing you can imagine, looking into your child’s crib and not seeing her there," says Marlene. "There is just nothing to describe it, and I remember just screaming, “Steve” and calling 911."

Marlene and Steve would like to forget everything about that awful night -- especially the garage door that they admit leaving open. That night, with the door open, the Aisenbergs can only assume that someone crept quietly into the house and snatched Sabrina while they were sleeping.

After Marlene called 911, Steve went next door to his neighbor, former Tampa cop Scott Middleton. Immediately, Middleton's police training kicked in: "I'm a parent myself, and if one of my kids was gone, there's just no way I'd be able to hold back the emotions."

Part 3

But, as correspondent Troy Roberts reports, it was just the beginning of the nightmare for the Aisenbergs, whose behavior was being examined and analyzed.

"There was no emotion," says Middleton. "There was absolutely no emotion with Steve and Marlene, like nothing had happened. They weren’t broken up, no tears being shed."

But Marlene insists she was crazed the morning Sabrina disappeared: "I was in hysterics. I didn't understand anything that was going on."

Within minutes from receiving a call, deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department descended on the Aisenberg home -- and the media was right behind them.

Part 4

"This was the lead story in our newscast everyday for months, because everyday there was something new to tell," says reporter Bill McGinty, who covered the story for WTSP, the CBS affiliate in Tampa.

Sheriff's deputies began an extensive search in and around the Aisenberg home, but found nothing. Deputies were struck by the chaotic nature of the Aisenberg home. To the cops, it spelled neglect. But to her friends, it was just the way Marlene was.

"She was not an immaculate housekeeper," says her friend, Kathy Dotson. "Anybody would attest to that her house was a mess."

By the end of that first horrible day, police encouraged Steve and Marlene to go on television and plead for their daughter's safe return. But to a curious public, the Aisenbergs seemed cold and aloof.

"You’re in shock, and I don’t wish anybody having to step into my shoes. My baby is gone. I have no idea where she is and I have to say something," says Marlene.

"You don’t know what to say, you don’t know how to react. There’s not a book you can read on what to go through when you’ve had something horrible happen in your life. I was in shock. I was in disbelief. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, to us, to our family."

Everything was going against the Aisenbergs. For instance, there was a snippet of videotape that showed, for a brief moment, Steve with a smile on his face.

"A lot of our behavior was what was dictated for us to do and be by the police," says Steve. "When we were leaving the house one day, they made a joke and we laughed."

"The focus of the story shifted from Sabrina Aisenberg, 5-month-old missing baby, to Marlene and Steve Aisenberg," says McGinty.

Even Brownie the family dog came under scrutiny. Why had he not barked at the intruder? "Brownie barked at everybody," says Middleton. "She just always barked. She was a noisy dog. I don't ever remember her being quiet."

Part 5

With permission from the Aisenbergs, the FBI tapped their phone so that any call from a kidnapper could be traced. One of the first calls was from Steve’s brother, Dave, a lawyer, who warned Steve to be wary of the police.

When detectives listened in, they were amazed that Steve, supposedly awaiting a call from his child’s kidnappers, never answers the call-waiting beep that kicks in -- not once, but twice

To the police, this was proof that the Aisenbergs knew much more about their baby’s disappearance than they were saying. Any other concerned parent would have cleared that line immediately. Suspicious, they confronted Marlene, who said they told her they believed she knew where Sabrina was - or what had happened to her.

"We called them here to help us find her, or who took her," says Marlene. "Where is she?"

The Aisenbergs say police ignored tips about possible Sabrina sightings.

"They tried to find a body," says Marlene. "They tried to find a body."

"The investigators never really got past Mr. and Mrs. Aisenberg," says Graham Brink, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. He's written extensively about the case. "In their minds, they could never rule them out as prime suspects."

Steve says he was "angry, frustrated, disappointed that no one was really looking for Sabrina." "Don't investigate us at the exclusion of looking for our baby," he adds.

Before Sabrina disappeared, life for the Aisenbergs largely revolved around their three children: Sabrina and her two older siblings, William, then 9, and Monica, then 5.

Marlene even started her own business for kids, running a baby and toddler exercise program. Steve worked real estate in Tampa’s booming economy.

But ugly gossip was spreading. Meanwhile, the Aisenbergs continued to cooperate with the investigation. Sheriff's detectives gave the Aisenbergs lie detector tests and then leaked information that some of Marlene's answers were "deceptive," even though Marlene says both tests were inconclusive.

The investigation was now three days old, and at that point, Steve heeded his brother’s advice. He hired Barry Cohen, one of the most high profile and combative lawyers in Florida.

Cohen says there is nothing that points to his clients' guilt, but he says detectives had one mission, to prove the Aisenbergs were involved. "When I saw the police were acting in bad faith and that they were destined to try to frame Marlene and Steve, that’s when we stopped cooperating," says Cohen.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office refused to talk to 48 Hours Mystery about the case, but McGinty says the cops definitely pursued other leads, even though the vast majority were from people who mistakenly thought they had spotted Sabrina.

"We went to their -- Aisenberg war room, where they had volumes of information, places they’d been to, thousands of different leads," says McGinty.

But there's no doubt the police felt stymied - just when they thought they were on the verge of breaking the couple. The police thought their best suspects were sitting at home, so in a highly unusual move, detectives got a warrant allowing them to secretly plant tiny listening devices called bugs in the Aisenberg's kitchen and bedroom.

"I think they thought it was their last chance of getting the Aisenbergs," says Brink. "The investigators didn’t have any physical evidence at that point. They didn’t have any eyewitness statements. They hadn’t found Sabrina. There had been no ransom note."

48 Hours asked Mike Perros, a wiretap and bug detection expert, to come to the Aisenberg home to demonstrate how the wiretapping operation worked. He explained that the sound quality is excellent, as long as it's applied correctly.

Every day, for nearly three months, from 7 a.m. to midnight, sheriff deputies listened and recorded thousands of private conversations going on in the Aisenberg home.

Sabrina had only been gone for two months, but a federal grand jury was convened to examine her disappearance. The Aisenbergs were asked to appear, but Cohen balked. "I think we did what we felt was necessary at the time," says Steve. "We did what we were advised to do."

Cohen says he advised his clients not to testify because of the reputation of lead federal prosecutor Steven Kunz: "He's a disgrace to his profession and the system."

As the grand jury heard testimony, social services workers showed up at the Aisenberg's front door to investigate whether their older children, William and Monica, were being mistreated.

"We were furious," says Marlene. "I think they wanted to scare us and let us think that they were taking away our children."

But it was just the beginning of the Aisenberg's ordeal.

Like the JonBenet Ramsey case, detectives looking for Sabrina were convinced the parents were somehow involved.

"I think once law enforcement collectively decided that the Aisenbergs were responsible and guilty, then whatever it took to implicate the Aisenbergs and to charge them and to arrest them, that was going to be done," says John Fitzgibbons, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice in Tampa.

The Aisenbergs, meanwhile, were trying to keep their hopes alive. "What I think about is how can I bring my daughter home," asks Steve.

By May 1999, the Aisenbergs were struggling financially, so they sold their house in Florida and moved back to Steve’s childhood home in Bethesda, Md.

Just four months later, on Sept. 9, Marlene received some unexpected visitors at home. Frantic, she called Cohen.

"I have no idea who they are, and the next thing I know, they're in the house. They've broken into the house," recalls Marlene. "There's a gun being pointed right at my face. It was the most horrifying thing other than waking up and finding my daughter not in her crib."

The intruders told Marlene they were the FBI. At the same time, agents were arresting Steve across town. He says they put him in a cell, strip-searched him, and took fingerprints and photos.

The Aisenbergs were indicted for conspiracy and for lying to investigators - not for murder. These were charges that, if proved, could send them to prison for 25 years.

The 27-page indictment is based on more than 2,600 taped conversations between the Aisenbergs. It details incriminating statements of an elaborate cover up of their daughter’s disappearance, even suggesting they killed her.

Prosecutors said taped conversations proved that Steve had killed their daughter.

"I thought, ‘The government has a hell of a powerful case here,’" says Fitzgibbons. "This was an extraordinary indictment because it set forth in enormous detail verbatim accounts of the different conversations which occurred -- and that was highly, highly unusual."

At the couple's bail hearing, a federal prosecutor told a judge she had heard Steve on tape saying, "I wish I hadn't harmed her. It was the cocaine.”(Read the Rest of the Article Here)

Extracts of CNN Larry King Live Interviews with the Aisenbergs

March 2001

KING: How did the person who apprehended the child get into the house?

S. AISENBERG: We believe they came through the garage. We had unfortunately left our garage door open accidentally that night, and we had never locked the door going from the garage to the house, so...

KING: Do you think, Marlene, it would have to be someone who knew what your child looked like -- knew what they were going to get? Why go right into that room?

M. AISENBERG: You know, that I don't know. It could have been, you know, people -- they could have watched. I went everywhere with my kids, and it could have been somebody that had been watching us and we wouldn't have a clue.


KING: Now, the most damaging thing, publicly, at least, no one has ever heard these tapes and apparently the judge says they're inaudible, but someone in indictment put down two statements, one by Marlene and one by Steven.

I'm going to put the statements up on the screen, read them and then what do you make of this since someone said they couldn't make out what the tape. This is what reportedly what was said. Marlene, the report you saying, "The baby's dead and buried. It was found because you did it. The baby is dead no matter what you say. You just did it.

And then Steven says, according to the indictment: "Honey -- and this was a federal indictment. "Honey, there was nothing I could do about it. We need to discuss they way that we can beat the charge. I would never break from the family pact on our story, even if the police were to hold me down. We will do what we have to do."

All right, Steve, what did make of that?

S. AISENBERG: Well, they're statements that neither of us have ever made. All I can make of it is that the authorities had a very vivid imagination and maybe from their years of dealing with less than desirable people, this is the scenario they came up with or maybe they just watched too many police shows.

KING: And then they have another one of you later, saying, a month later, saying I wish I hadn't harmed her. You deny saying that, too?

S. AISENBERG: I never said any of that.


KING: Nancy, you are not only a court TV anchor but you're a former prosecutor. What do you make of this? What are they going on?

NANCY GRACE, "COURT TV": Well, there's a lot more than just demeanor that the police took into account when they first suspected these two. For instance, these two were the only ones that they know of in the home when the crime took place, when the baby was taken.

Not only that, Larry, I believe that there was such a coincidence, and very often you don't see coincidences in criminal law. For instance, the garage door was unlocked. The door to the home was unlocked. The alarm was off that night, of all nights. The dog didn't bark.

And the police are expected to believe between midnight and 6:30 some unknown stranger sneaks into their house, that knows the layout of their home, and takes their baby. It is just too much to believe.


CHARLES WILSON, U.S. ATTORNEY: What this indictment alleges is that the baby was not kidnapped as reported by the Aisenbergs, that they lied to law enforcement authorities concerning the circumstances surrounding the baby's disappearance and their reaction to it, as well as the condition of the baby at the time of the reported kidnapping.

The indictment also charges the Aisenbergs discussed on several occasions that the baby was actually dead, and what story they would tell authorities concerning the disappearance of the baby.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The painstaking search in this last of 15 haunted (ph) lakes could take until Friday to complete, but only then can the searchers say with certainty they couldn't find any trace of Sabrina underwater or on the ground for 5 square miles around her home, that's unless new tips come in.


KING: That was one of the numerous television reports concerning this unsolved matter. Before we have comments from the other members of the panel, would you comment what Nancy said? The garage door is open, the door is open, the alarm is off.

S. AISENBERG: Sure. We had an alarm, but we never set it. We never used the alarm at all. .

KING: So it was never on?


S. AISENBERG: It was never on. It's something that came with the home and we just never used it.

As far as the garage door and the door leading to the garage from the home, we never locked the door going from the home to the garage. That just was never locked. We never checked it to see if it was locked. It was just...

M. AISENBERG: That's how the kids would come in and out of the house during the day.

S. AISENBERG: Come in and out of the house.

KING: And you mentioned that if the lead suspected you, they'd follow it up, but if -- if someone reported seeing the child, they didn't follow it.

S. AISENBERG: Correct. On day two, there was a lead called in at an -- a woman saw a child that looked like Sabrina at an airport, and the woman was never contacted by authorities. A few months later, there was another lead of a woman said her stepdaughter had babysat for a child who looked like Sabrina, and the people had floor plans of our home in their house. And that woman was never recontacted by authorities.

But when she actually first called it in, she talked to the police officer, and the police officer said there's no way that can be Sabrina, there's no way she can be in that town with those people.

KING: Now, Steve Thomas, you're a former lead detective in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. What do you make of this police work?

STEVE THOMAS, FORMER LEAD DETECTIVE ON RAMSEY MURDER CASE: Well, I have to take the pro-law enforcement position here. Earlier today, Larry, I spoke with Cal Henderson, the sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida, the lead agency in this case, a very well-respected law enforcement professional. And he said he believes in and stands behind his detectives in this case. These are decorated, respected, career professional police officers, and he doesn't believe they perjured themselves.

Mistakes may have been made. There may have been a lack of preparation, but nothing rising to a level of criminal conduct. And as we know, there's going to be an inquiry into this matter, and we'll have a result.

KING: All right. But how about their saying, for example, they call in, someone said they saw the child at an airport and the police don't follow up?

THOMAS: Well...

KING: You're a detective. Wouldn't you follow up on that?

THOMAS: I can tell you, Larry, in a high-profile case, such as a Simpson a Ramsey or the Aisenbergs, the police are flooded, literally, with thousands and thousands of tips, running the gamut from the bizarre and obscene to the legitimate, and there has to be a process in place to screen those leads.

KING: So this Hillsborough, the gentleman you spoke to -- what's his name again?

THOMAS: Cal Henderson. He's the sheriff down there.

KING: So he believes the Aisenbergs harmed their own child.

THOMAS: No, he did not tell me that at all. He said he stands by and believes in his police officers.

KING: Well, Marc, you lost a daughter to an abduction and a murder, and there was a time people thought you did it, right?

MARC KLAAS, FATHER OF MURDER VICTIM: Yeah, that's absolutely correct, Larry. You know, I talk to parents on an -- almost on a daily basis who find themselves in this situation. And inevitably, what happens is that they are going to be questioned, cajoled or even sometimes accused of having committed these crimes themselves. And basically when that happens, they'll stand toe-to-toe with the police officers and say, you want me, you come and get me.

What they have to do is eliminate themselves, which is something that wasn't done in the Aisenbergs' case.

I think that we have to remember here what's being suggested is that not only the detectives that came into the house, but the entire law enforcement community in Hillsborough County, the -- the federal prosecutor, the local prosecutor and the grand jury, whose questions they refused to answer, are all in some kind of a cosmic sinister conspiracy, against Steve and Marlene Aisenberg. And I don't believe that for a second.

KING: OK. Did you refuse to answer grand jury questions?

S. AISENBERG: We, under our attorney's advice, did take the Fifth with the grand jury.

KING: Why?

S. AISENBERG: Because at that point it was becoming obvious to our attorney, Barry Cohen, that they were solely focusing in on us as the targets of an investigation.

KING: But you didn't do it, so...

S. AISENBERG: Well, if we didn't...

M. AISENBERG: We didn't say the things that were on those tapes and the police made those things up, too.

KING: Barry, why did you have them take the...

GRACE: I don't understand that.

KING: Hold it. All right. Nancy -- Nancy, you want to ask a question, and then I'll ask Barry. Nancy, go ahead.

GRACE: Well, what I don't understand is like what Marc Klaas just said. He never once refused to speak to police. He offered to do a polygraph. And I understand that in this case Mrs. Aisenberg actually had -- couldn't pass two polygraphs in a row, got inconclusive tests. And you never heard Marc Klaas taking the Fifth. In fact, he insisted on going to police.

KING: All right. Do you want to respond?

S. AISENBERG: You know what, we..


KING: All right. Hold on. All right, thank you. All right -- Marc.

S. AISENBERG: We insisted on going to police also, but we asked that our attorney, Barry Cohen, be present on any questioning that we had with the police. The police refused that. As a matter of fact, on the Geraldo Rivera show, I had specifically said with Marc Klaas there that we would answer any questions the police asked us. We had been under much questioning by the police. We had answered every question they ever asked us. We offered to give them blood, pubic hair samples, hair samples, anything they needed that would help them to find our daughter.

GRACE: You took the Fifth. You took the Fifth.

S. AISENBERG: And you know what, we answered every question that they ever asked us.

GRACE: Two polygraphs, inconclusive -- why?

S. AISENBERG: But you know what, I passed my polygraph that I was given. I took an independent polygraph, my wife took an independent polygraph with Richard Ratcliffe (ph), which we passed. It was shown...

GRACE: Third time around with your own private polygraph...


KING: All right. Hold it, hold it. Warren, Warren -- we haven't heard from Warren and then it's Barry. Warren?

ELLY: Well, the thing that's interesting to me about this, Larry, is we're completely forgetting what this federal magistrate said after spending two weeks listening to this testimony, to the testimony of these detectives, their superiors, experts and so on. These are some of the words that the federal magistrate used.

He said that the detectives, Burton and Blake, engaged in a pattern of inappropriate conduct, that their work on these wiretap applications was pure fiction, unconvincing, that they'd recklessly disregarded the truth. These weren't isolated incidents. These, the federal magistrate found, were a pattern.

And what is troubling about this case is just the matter of just how far did this go. Were these mistakes -- a federal magistrate, in my experience, 25 years of reporting, I've never seen a federal magistrate throw out wholesale a case like this, Larry, and find these kinds of disturbing things in the course of an investigation.

KING: Warren has a point, doesn't he, Steve? The magistrate uses terms like "deliberately," "recklessly," "disregard."

THOMAS: Well, Larry, let me respond this way: I've never -- and I think Nancy will support me in this -- heard of cops and prosecutors putting their lives and careers and families and possible imprisonment on the line conspiring to frame innocent people. That may happen in Hollywood versions, but in real life, cops and prosecutors don't operate that way.

KING: Are you questioning the motives of the judge?

THOMAS: Well, no, because I'm not familiar with the judge's ruling. But what I think we have here is the all-too-familiar let's persecute and put the cops on trial.

GRACE: Blame the cops.

THOMAS: We saw it in Simpson, we saw it in Ramsey, and we're seeing it unfortunately in this case. And I'll tell you, Larry, it has a chilling effect on police work. When the detective commander comes into the squad room and says, we've got a case, we have parents who have retained prominent legal counsel, they're not cooperative, and they have a dead and/or missing child, who wants to take this case -- I can tell you detectives aren't raising their hands to take these cases on.

KING: Barry, is there some -- I don't mean to imply against anyone. But it seems that the prosecutors and the police stand by their people, and the defense attorneys and others stand by their people.

COHEN: Well, and that's the problem in the case. It's bigger than the Aisenbergs. It's about the whole system.

When you see that Cal Henderson, the sheriff, stands by his people, and you hear this gentleman, this detective, talk about what he's been speaking about, they're refusing to deal with the facts of this case. The fact is that what Nancy said was true: that the police had a right to question those circumstances that she described.

But once they investigated, they found out that these people didn't have an alarm -- they had it there, never hooked up. The fact that the neighbors talked about how they always left the garage door open. The fact is that the dog didn't bark at strangers in the house. They saw that repeatedly. It was on the tapes. It was on the evidence in the tapes. When people came in the house, the dog did not bark.

Once they satisfied themselves, or should have satisfied themselves, then they needed to look elsewhere instead of still trying to make facts to support their conclusions.

* The Aisenbergs also receive the support from The National Center for Missing Children, like the McCanns. You can see a progressed picture of how Sabrina would look like today here.

You can read more about the Indictment of Steve and Marlene Aisenberg here.


  1. ..."Prosecutors said taped conversations proved that Steve had killed their daughter....."

    Mas:You can see a progressed picture of how Sabrina would look like today.....The National Center for Missing Children.


    Realmente,parece o "mesmo caso e os mesmos comportamentos e o mesmo futuro...".

    Bem colocada,esta notícia/reportagem.

    Se,por um lado as gravações(?)apontaram para o consumo de cocaína da parte do pai e ele justificar-se com isso.....


    Há 59 anos,uma bébé de 8 meses teve uma birra enorme,talvez com muito choro.

    Como ,a Mãe desse bébé contou mais tarde à Filha:era apenas um birra natural!E,Eu sem poder fazer nada(estava grávida novamente,mas também não foi só por isso).

    A Tia,irmã do monstro, do bébé também assistiu.Também não podia fazer nada perante a sova violentissima que a Bébé sofreu da parte do homem,a quem ela, já adulta recusa chamar outro nome que não seja "o marido da Mãe".

    A Tia,irmã dele,viveu com este pesadelo até há poucos anos.Foi terrível vê-la relembrar esse episódio violentíssimo.

    Mãe e Tia,suponho,não intervieram com medo. Não fosse o indivíduo matar com toda a sua violência, a Bébé.(era OFICIAL da Marinha de Guerra Portuguesa).

    Quando o segundo bébé nasce e ele depara com mais uma rapariga,saiu de casa furioso.

    Foi pena ter voltado.

    A seguir, teve 5 rapazes de enfiada.

    Antes do 10º parto(ANTES)separou-se da Mulher.Deixou-a só.Com dez Filhos.

    Isto tudo que acabei de relatar mostra a violência extrema de um ser. Mas,no mundo exterior,tinha outra "cara,outro comportamento.O falso!

  2. Não tendo própriamente muito a ver com o caso Aisenbergs/Mc,penso que esta belíssima história deveria ser lida(felizmente....hove mais Aristides Mendes):

    "Dead at 98: Heroic Irena Sendler, who helped save 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis."

    Last updated at 21:42pm on 12th May 2008
    ......................."Under the pretext of inspecting the ghetto's sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, Mrs Sendler and her assistants went inside in search of children who could be smuggled out and given a chance of survival by living as Catholics.

    Babies and small children were smuggled out in ambulances and in trams, sometimes wrapped up as packages. ....."

    ......"Despite the Yad Vashem honour, Sendler was largely forgotten in her homeland.

    Only in her final years, confined to a nursing home, did she finally become one of Poland's most respected figures......"
    Os que se preocupam com a segurança das crianças.........

  3. http://reports.tbo.com/reports/sabrina/timeline.htm


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